Washington has been deadlocked in a heated debate about the Iraq war for what seems like forever. Most Americans could probably tell you that 3,800 brave members of our military have been killed in the war, or that thousands more have come home with serious and debilitating injuries. Most Americans could probably tell you how long we've been at war (too long), or how many tours of duty their husbands, daughters, sons and neighbors have done.
I doubt, however, that most Americans could tell you how much this war is costing their families, how much money is being diverted from their children's schools to pay for the war, or how much a disrupted Iraqi oil supply is hitting them at the pump.
The baseline budget numbers alone are mind-numbing: more than $490 billion in federal spending on the Iraq war so far -- including interest on the war debt. That's nearly 10 times the $50 billion the Bush administration originally estimated the war would cost. Yet President Bush has asked Congress to appropriate an additional $157 billion to the war just for next year.
The untold story -- one every American needs to hear -- is that the costs of this war go beyond these budget numbers. The Congressional Joint Economic Committee has determined that if the President's 2008 funding request is approved, the full economic cost of the war -- including the economic impact of deficit financing, the future care of our wounded veterans, and disruption in oil markets -- will total $1.3 trillion just by the end of 2008.
That's $16,500 for every family of four. And, if this war continues, that figure could jump to almost $37,000 for a family of four over the next decade.
The numbers may feel abstract, but the costs are real. The burden of war debt handed down to our children is real. The lost opportunities to invest here at home in jobs, productivity, roads, health care and education are real. And, the lives lost are real; of course, it's impossible to put a price tag on human life, the ultimate cost that too many families have had to pay.
This year alone, the President has asked Congress to spend more on the Iraq war than the nation does annually on the entire American road and highway system. At a time when our levees and bridges are crumbling, we cannot afford to stop investing in our infrastructure.
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The President has been squabbling with Congress about money for children's health care, when about three months' worth of Iraq war spending would have covered the entire five-year Children's Health Insurance Program funding increase he recently vetoed. In fact, interest payments on the war debt in 2008 alone would fund the children's health care program for over four years at the current funding level.
The President seems determined to keep his blinders on and push ahead with his failed Iraq war strategy. The administration is reportedly negotiating for an indefinite U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
In addition to the untold loss of life, a continuing U.S. military occupation of Iraq will cost the U.S. economy an additional $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion over the next decade, according to the JEC. That's above and beyond what we've already spent on the war, and it's money that will continue to be diverted from important national priorities.
Debate over the war is mired in rhetorical deadlock. Day-to-day conditions on the ground have provided much of the fodder for years of back-and-forth bickering.
A productive debate over the long-term economic impact of the war and its cost to future generations is long overdue. It's no surprise, however, that this is a debate the Bush administration would rather hide from.
It can't hide from the truth forever: we are all paying for the colossal costs of this war one way or another.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney is a Democrat who represents Nassau County. Her web site is at http://www.house.gov/maloney.
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